Rethink WELLNESS Hub

3. KEFIR! details, details!

cows cows

WHAT IS IT?   WHY DO I WANT IT?

HOW DO I MAKE IT?

Kefir is actually a fermented food, a “lacto-fermented food.”  It is an ancient healthful and longevity-promoting beverage that has the potential to transform your wellness!  If the idea of lacto-fermentation is new to you, don’t be intimidated by the sound of these words.  Kefir is simply cultured milk, much like yogurt or buttermilk, with one big exception… the wild numbers of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that it will add to your digestive tract out-perform these other milk products in remarkable ways — not to mention the fabulous enzymes, vitamins, and minerals you will be flooding into your system!

And more great news for you:  Kefir is so easy to make!

The simple steps mostly involve leaving jars alone on your counter.  The kefir is made while you just go about doing all the things that matter to you in a  day.  The entire process of making kefir in your own kitchen will deliver many more benefits than the quality that can be purchased in grocery stores, and only 3 — 4 minutes of your time are required.  Truly!  Just 3 minutes to give your body an enormous gift!  Please don’t be overwhelmed by these wordy instructions.  For most folks, this food is new so the details are lengthy, but the steps are remarkably easy.  You will see after a batch or two!  Let’s get you started making this ancient healing elixir!

First, take a look at the SUPPLY LIST.  You will need a very few things:

  • PLASTIC STRAINER  A plastic strainer is best.  Some sources state that a metal strainer is acceptable as long as it is stainless steel.  (Basically, if the strainer will rust, it is not stainless steel and should not be used.)  Please be aware that the metal strainer, when used often enough, does seem to harm the living grains.  Using a plastic strainer simply eliminates any of these concerns.
  • GLASS MIXING BOWL  A large, glass mixing bowl with a pour spout is ideal.
  • SILICONE SPATULA
  • 2 QUART SIZE, WIDE-MOUTH, GLASS JARS  The larger opening makes the clean-up much easier.
  • 20131206_2201212 PLASTIC LIDS FOR THE WIDE MOUTH JARS  Again, it is best to avoid any metal as in the traditional canning jar lids.  Sometimes an upside-down coffee filter held in place with a rubber band works well too.  Mold can grow on the surface of the kefir if it is exposed to too much air, so plastic lids are still the better choice.
  • MILK  Kefir can be successfully made with any sort of milk… 2%, half and half, non-organic, cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, etc.  Each option will naturally yield a slightly different taste.  As you become a kefir-making pro, you might want to experiment with the milk varieties to find your favorite taste.  After decades of practice, the kefir-making legends offer the following suggestions regarding milk:  Non-homogenized, pasteurized organic whole milk from grass-fed cows is the better option if the milk is being purchased from the store ( a good choice, but not the best as you will read).  Organic Valley has such a variety labeled as “pasture milk” in a green half gallon carton.  You can find this brand and sort in grocery stores like Earthfare or Whole Foods,  Also, when choosing the best milk, many folks avoid the processes of ultra-pasteurization and most definitely homogenization.   For the world’s kefir-making pros, one milk product is preferred over all others — raw milk — purchased from a local farmer!  Much information is available on -line for further understanding of the research and politics surrounding milk.  As you have time and interest, peruse some of the thought-provoking resources and make the best decision for you and your family.  ( Read the information provided at “realmilk.com.”  Also, Chris Kesser.com and Mercola.com are wellsprings of health information with articles particularly explaining the issues surrounding milk.  Links to these articles can be found at the end of this page.)  Again, keep in mind, any milk can produce kefir!
  • kefir prepKEFIR GRAINS!  These are the little miracles!  They are polysaccharide bundles of beneficial bacteria and good yeasts which quite literally eat up the lactose and pre-digest the casein protein, two components in milk that cause many folks digestive difficulties.  The fermentation changes all that!  This end product, this enzyme-rich, fermented milk becomes a probiotic super food with 30 to 55 varieties of bacteria/yeasts including great amounts of bio-available vitamins and minerals!  Your digestive tract will cheer!  Think… thin yogurt with wildly more benefits!  This is KEFIR!

Gather all your supplies and get started!  Let’s look at the two phases of making kefir:  First and Second Culturing…

FIRST CULTURE

1.  Grab a glass jar and label it “First Culture.”  Pour in one cup of milk.  Use the spatula to place 1 heaping tablespoon of kefir grains in the jar with the milk.  Place the plastic lid loosely tightened on the jar.  You want to sit this jar away from sun… inside a kitchen cabinet or off to the side on your counter.  Keeping it beside the refrigerator is a good idea because of the warmth.  Ideally, the jar should be kept in a room with temperatures between 68 and 76, which is probably the temperature of most of our homes.  Nothing to do now except wait 24 hours.  The grains do all the work!

making kefir2.  After 24 hours, place the strainer over the large glass mixing bowl.  Open the “First Culture” jar and pour thickened milk (now kefir!) into the strainer.  The kefir will drip into the bowl.  Using the spatula, gently stir the kefir and grains until only the grains are left in the strainer.  The liquid kefir can be consumed at this stage — either chilled or used in recipes.  However, allowing it to go through another culturing cycle without the grains allows the vitamin content to increase all the more.  The second culture cycle also takes away a bit of the sour taste.  The steps for  the second culturing couldn’t be easier.  But before preparing the second culture jar, start the process over for tomorrow’s batch of new kefir.  Pour 1 to 1/2 cups of fresh milk into the jar labeled “First Culture.”  Use the spatula to gently move the kefir grains from the strainer to the “First Culture” jar.  Now simply begin the 24 hour process all over again on your kitchen counter!

With the kefir you have remaining in the mixing bowl, you are ready to proceed to the “Second Culture! ”

You are just hours away from enjoying your kefir anyway you like it!

SECOND CULTURE

1.  Take a second glass jar and label it “Second Culture.”  Pour all the kefir out of the glass mixing bowl from the first 24 hour cycle into this “Second Culture” jar.  Place a lid loosely on top.  Again, this jar needs to be placed away from the sun in a warm spot on your counter or in a cabinet.  The kefir will continue to “ripen” while in this second jar.  You will leave this jar sitting for 8 to 12 hours.  This process amplifies the vitamin content — particularly B vitamins and vitamin C!  As you experiment with different recipes, try adding a peel from an organic orange or lemon into the second culture jar with the kefir at this stage.  The flavor boost is delicious!

20131123_1850232.  After 8 – 12 hours, the “Second Culture” is ready to be enjoyed!  Move this jar from the counter to the refrigerator.  Let it chill for best flavor.  Keep the jar in the refrigerator until you are ready to mix it into a smoothie or use in any recipe.  (If you added orange or lemon zest, you many want to remove it now so the taste does not become bitter.)

When you are ready to enjoy the kefir, you have endless flavor combinations for smoothies.  Some great ingredient choices include frozen berries, honey, maple syrup, stevia, a touch of vanilla or almond extracts, cinnamon, coconut oil, etc.  BLEND and ENJOY!  If not consuming immediately, the kefir will be “good” in the fridge for several months!  Beyond smoothies, kefir makes wonderful dips, salad dressings, even ice cream!  The chilled kefir retains all the benefits so have fun experimenting with recipes.  Please be aware that heat diminishes the benefits, so adding kefir to dishes that will be heated may not be the best use of this power food.

It’s that simple!  Your digestive tract will thank you, and your energy levels will greatly improve!  You’ll see!

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT KEFIR AND THE LIVING KEFIR-GRAINS

kefir photo cherry  almond 11.18.13WHERE DOES KEFIR COME FROM?  Who should we thank for the bundles of microbial helpers?  History leaves us with some questions.  The Russians have long known and enjoyed the power of the kefir grains.  Research indicates that the first appearance of the grains was in the Caucasus Mountains.  All grains gathered today from around the world would have their origin in this Russian region.  Traditional people who drank kefir experienced exceptional health and longevity!  Battles were actually fought, legend says, to capture these miraculous grains.  Only as recently as the 19th Century was the story and the power of kefir grains publicly shared with the rest of the world.

WHAT MAKES KEFIR SUCH A “HEALING ELIXIR?”  Kefir is a fermented food loaded with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.  Kefir replenishes the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria and bacteria by-products.  Without these helpers, the food we eat will not be properly broken-down and utilized by the body.  The human body is made of 10 trillion cells, but it is host to 100 trillion microbes!  These microbes are not our enemies, rather, they are actually our best friends when gathered together in the proper balance!  Research indicates that 85% of our immune system comes from the lining of our digestive tract!  90% of our neurotransmitters are produced in the gut!  Much more than digestion is happening right in the gut!  If the internal, microbial balance is off, then the body suffers as nutrients simply cannot be properly absorbed.  The microbes do most of the work of digestion for us.  As kefir is introduced to the body, years of imbalance can begin to correct itself!  Along with kefir, other “lacto-fermented” foods can be added to the diet to truly change one’s  entire experience of health.  Cultured fruits and vegetables are excellent additions to the microbial world controlling much of our overall health!  Kefir is a great place to begin with cultured or fermented foods, and perhaps you will be so encouraged by the changes you experience that you venture into additional cultured wonder-foods.

CAN THE MILK SITTING OUT ON THE COUNTER IN THE FIRST AND SECOND CULTURE JARS “go bad?”  Kefir grains keep any overgrowth of bad bacteria at bay!  The good bacteria and yeasts actually make it impossible for the bad pathogens to cause any harm.  That being said… if the smell ever becomes foul, then use good judgment.  You will soon be able to recognize the smell of healthy kefir.  Some kefir-enthusiasts don’t even wash their culturing jars because the pathogens simply have no opportunity to overgrow as long as the grains are happy and healthy!  Be mindful that heat above 78 degrees will harm, even kill these wonderful, living grains.  The whole process of making kefir is very forgiving given the right conditions!

IF THE GRAINS ARE ALIVE, DOES THIS MEAN THEY WILL GROW AND MULTIPLY!  Yes!  The grains will grow with time!  It takes about 8 to 10 days for the grains to increase in size.  Continually increase the amount of milk as the grains grow to keep the ratio of approximately 1 tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of fresh milk.  If the milk separates in the jar on the counter into milk solids and whey, you may need to increase your milk a bit with the next batch or you may want to remove some of the grains to keep the kefir yield consistent each day.  The separated kefir is certainly still edible.  Jus shake gently and enjoy as always!  (And bear in mind that it is the separation of the milk solids from the whey that cheese-making depends upon.  Recipes for making kefir cheese can be found online.  As the many tastes of kefir are explored, kefir cheese may be one of your favorites for homemade dips.)

WHAT CAN I DO WITH THE EXTRA GRAINS THAT I WILL HAVE OVER TIME!  Well. Many creative things have been done:  The grains have actually been swallowed by some kefir enthusiasts and used as mega-probiotic booters!  Some say the extra grains make a great contribution to compost.  Others report great success with using the grains as a healing aid for skin conditions and abrasions — placing the grains on the troubled spots occasionally through out the day.  Certainly, you might consider blessing a friend by sharing some of your extra grains so they can join the kefir-loving crowd!

WHEN I NEED TO TAKE A BREAK FROM KEFIR MAKING, HOW  CAN I KEEP THE GRAINS ALIVE?  When you need to stop kefir production for any reason, place the active grains in a jar with twice the normal amount of milk (lactose milk… not coconut milk, for example) and place in the refrigerator.  They will last for a week without any trouble.  If you want to leave them longer, then double the quantity of milk.  The more lactose the grains have to feed on , the longer you can leave them.  The cold, refrigerated temps slow down their activity, but keep them still alive.  When you want to resume making kefir, the grains may need one or two daily cycles of “first culturing” in fresh milk before the kefir returns to the taste you prefer, but they will revive easily.  Healthy grains should float on the top of the milk, and the smell will be a wee bit yeasty, but not rancid.

My kefir testimonial…

kefir making 5   1.16.13I never would have imagined that all the health benefits I have experienced with kefir could actually be true!  It has been a little miracle food for me and my family!  My wellness radically shifted as I began incorporating cultured milk (KEFIR!) recipes into my meals, and now kefir-making is a daily ritual that brings me simple joy.  I am thrilled to be able to share this age-old elixir with you!  My prayer is that you will soon experience a new vitality and energy by adding such a treasured item to your routine.  May we all re-visit the hope of wellness and glean new insights for our very hurried lives by looking over our shoulders at the healthful practices and traditions of those who have gone before us.  I am rethinking wellness and so excited about the powerful results of such simple choices and foods.  

Thank you for sharing your moments with me today!  Please find more helpful posts scattered around this site.  Clicking here will take you to some of my favorite kefir smoothie recipes.  Reading the BLESS THE GUT series gives additional information about the total health benefits of balancing the gut.  If you would like a bit more on the joy of kefir, please check out this post!

Joyfully Yours, Deana

And as you have the time, I highly recommend reading about milk by clicking on these super helpful resources.  Do a search on “milk choices” and read what some experts have to say…

MERCOLA.COM

CHRIS KRESSER.COM

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